Is the Myopia Explosion Linked to Digital Screens?

Dr. Russel Lazarus, January 24, 2022

By the year 2050, it’s projected that more than half of the world’s population will have myopia. 

Are digital screens to blame?

In this day and age, and especially during the time of COVID-19, most children spend a large part of their day looking at digital screens.

Whether it’s distance learning classes on the computer, homework on the tablet or YouTube on their smartphones, there’s no denying that our children are in front of screens now more than ever.

The last few years have seen an explosion of people diagnosed with short-sightedness (myopia). 

Use of digital screens for more than 3 hours a day results in a 30 percent increase in myopia risk.

Has the proliferation of screens in our lives caused a myopia explosion or are the trends simply coincidental?

The case for a link between screens and myopia

A May 2020 study published in Clinical and Experimental Optometry relied on the objective measure of mobile data usage to identify a link between screen time and myopia prevalence.

The study compared the amount of data usage to the prevalence of myopia, and found that people with myopia used almost twice as much data as those without.

Researchers on this study suggest a strong relationship between data usage, and by extension screen usage, and the development of myopia.

Though this study was unable to find significant data to draw conclusions about mobile data usage and myopia progression, the study noted that higher data usage did seem to coincide with a higher severity of myopia.  

Further research published in The Lancet Digital Health (October 2021) also suggests a link between screen time and myopia.

Researchers from Singapore, Australia, China and the United Kingdom conducted one of the most comprehensive studies to-date on this subject, compiling more than 3,000 separate research articles studying the link between smart devices and myopia in people ages 3 months to 33 years.

After analyzing all the studies available, researchers found that 3 hours a day or more on a digital device caused a 30% increase in myopia risk.

These numbers are especially concerning given the COVID-19  pandemic, when many children all over the world have upped their screen time, between distance learning and using screens for entertainment.

SEE RELATED: Does Myopia Progression Affect Adults?

For more information about how digital screens may impact your child’s vision and how you can help, contact your local eye doctor.

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The case against a link between screens and myopia

Many other experts seem to disagree about whether excessive increased screen time necessarily translates to a rise in myopia development and/or progression.

In a study published in January 2020 in Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, researchers pointed out that the increase in myopia rates in East Asia and other places around the world began before screens became widespread in many communities.

This study found that, although children who spend a lot of time on screens tended to have high rates of myopia, it did not establish a statistical connection between screen time and the development of myopia.

Is spending time outdoors the answer?

Yes, research is showing that spending at least two hours outdoors every day can significantly reduce a child’s risk of myopia.

Researched published in Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics (Jan 2020) observed that children who spend less time outdoors and more time doing “near work” such as reading, have an increased incidence of myopia.

In light of this, the study suggests that screens may not be the issue unto themselves.

Rather, screens may be simply another form of near work, like reading or writing, that can cause an increase in myopia if done in excess. Support for this could be seen in the fact that, while screen usage has gone up exponentially over the last two decades, myopia development and progression have not seen an equally exponential rise.

What to do about screen time?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time to no more than two hours per day and encourages your child to go outside to play everyday.

Multiple studies, including one in the February, 2019 issue of Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science link heavy screen usage with reduced time spent outdoors, and suggest that there is a strong connection between outdoor play time and a reduced incidence of myopia.

LEARN MORE: Guide to Myopia Management

If you are concerned about your child’s myopia, schedule an appointment with an eye doctor near you.

Over the last few years have seen an explosion of myopia in children.

Has the proliferation of screens in our lives caused a myopia explosion or are the trends simply coincidental?